Opinion: Is hospitality improving?

Consultant Peter Backman considers what the post-pandemic positives may be for consumers...

One of the (many) joys of going abroad for a holiday (sadly denied for many of us right now) is to sit at a table and be served a drink and perhaps some food in an unrushed manner. Compare that with what we are offered in the UK.

Now, I have to admit that I (shock, horror!) don’t much like going into pubs. I’m not necessarily anti-pub, it’s just that I don’t find the traditional pub experience enjoyable. I don’t see why, in a place that says it’s in the hospitality business, I have to go up to the bar and (sometimes) get jostled to be served which, in my eyes, is a profoundly non-hospitable activity. In passing, I’d observe that there are many other places where I can be served at a counter (although now it’s more likely I’d be via an app) – what would McDonald’s or Costa or Gregg’s, be like if you had to be crowded round the bar to be served?

Then, back in the pub, having tried to make myself obviously visible as someone who wants to place an order and having been subsequently discovered by the person behind the bar, I am suddenly faced with a decision. There is a wide choice of drinks (beer, wine, soft drinks) that are spread out all over the place – in the chiller cabinet, at a pump, perhaps on a shelf – with no idea of the price (why is that legal?). And then, having been served, I have to push my way through a crowd to get to a place of solace – maybe even finding a table (which may not have been cleared of the detritus of its previous tenants). And to get a second helping, I have to repeat the process.

Maybe I don’t understand what a pub is about. But what I do know is that when I am in Spain (where a lot of pubgoers go for their holidays, I’m sure) or France or America, it’s different, I get a list of what’s available (and the prices), I get waited on – and I may not have to pay until I want to leave. In this process, I am treated as a valued customer.

Then along comes Covid. So now, if you go into a pub, you must be socially distanced, you must be served at the table. You begin to feel like a king. What an irony this is: Covid, the apparent killer of hospitality, is in fact perhaps one of its benefactors. And in doing so it brings the British experience more in line with what happens in other countries – a process that the hospitality industry has been following for many years. Is that a good thing? I don’t know – some will say it is, some will say it isn’t – but I think it’s here to stay.

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